by Dawn Bonanno

The air popped in Sarah’s room, followed by a thump from the closet. Light spilled out from the bottom of the closet door. Not the closet light, that was dim yellow. This light flashed—dazzling sparks of pink and blue and purple.

Another portal. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and tried to slow her racing heart. It was alarming just how often the fabric of time and space between the realms tore.

Sarah crept out of bed, her dad’s giant flashlight in hand. The metal was cold in her hand, and reassuring. “Keefer?”

Keefer bleeped sweetly, like a gentle one-word song.

“Yes, it’s quiet. Everyone’s sleeping.” She sighed and lowered the flashlight. Maybe it was a rest stop between jobs, like the last time. So long as it wasn’t like the time before that.

“It’s really late, Keefer. I can’t hang out.” School tomorrow. I can’t fail another science test. Last time was her own fault; too much World of Warcraft. She glanced at her computer and sighed. She’d just gotten it a few weeks ago for her tenth birthday. No way she’d survive a month without it.

The lights fizzed out as the portal closed. Only the moonlight illuminated the bare wood floor. A sob slipped through the door.

Sarah sighed. “You can come back during the summer, okay? You can ride in my backpack again. Maybe you can time it with our camping trip.”

The closet door rumbled and two shadows seeped out from under it. Sarah jumped back on her bed and clung to the wooden headboard. 

“Keefer, what are those?” She kept her voice low. “Are you working?”

The shadows scrambled across the floor and dove under her bed. They looked like super long ferrets.

The closet door creaked open and a hairy white ball with ginormous eyes stared at her. Two feet tall, Keefer’s floof flashed dazzling colors in greeting and ended on apologetic blue. He was Midnight Realm’s sweetest monster hunter, so long as you weren’t the monster. He chirped out an explanation.

Summary translation: Suneaters too fast, couldn’t stop portal. Closed it after 2 entered. Big swarm still in Midnight Realm. Friends rounding them up.

Sarah’s heart ached at her earlier selfishness. “Okay, don’t worry about it,” she said. “Let’s just get these suneaters out of here.”

Inwardly, she shivered. Keefer had shared too many stories about suneaters snuffing out life on planets all in the name of feasting on sunlight. She didn’t quite get how it worked, just that they used invisible sunbeams to suck the life out of a sun. Not enough to kill it, but enough to cool planets. Three worlds ruined—Midnight Realms being the first—and Keefer and his friends saved countless others. Earth was the current target.

“How do we get them out?” she asked.

Keefer bounced, then rolled toward the bed. He squeaked at the suneaters. They darted about, sliding her frisbee out, and popped open her tin of lip balm, all of which rolled across the floor.

Keefer squealed, his eyes squeezing shut.

Sarah cringed. All she needed was her parents spotting him. Last time Dad found Keefer, the little monster hunter was thrown into a trash can and her room fumigated. Luckily, she’d rescued him before animal control arrived. She’d received a lecture about wild animals in the house and two weeks’ grounding. No telling what Dad would do if he found ‘another wild animal’ in her room.

She had to hurry this along. She crept off the bed and grabbed her padded bo staff from behind the bedroom room. Maybe they just needed a little nudge.

When Sarah shoved it at them, the bo shuddered in her hands. She pulled it out: the flashlight revealed dozens of tiny teeth marks in the padding. “How do I explain that to Master Vo?”

I don’t, she realized. Just take the lecture, apologize, and duct tape the damage. Story of her life.

The suneaters rumbled under the bed again.

“Keefer, have you been hunting them long?”

He flashed pink: affirmative.

“Maybe they’re hungry?” Without actual sunlight here to distract them—which was a very good thing—maybe she could distract them with something sugary. It had worked before. That had been a sorry end to her cupcake tower.

No way she was opening the bedroom door and letting the suneaters out of her room. But there wasn’t any food in her room. Not even a dog biscuit. Where was Jedi anyway? Probably sleeping in Mom’s room. Useless dog.

Her gaze fell on her backpack at the foot of her bed. Oh no. The only food in there was the unopened cherry lollipop stashed in her science textbook. Her reward for when she reread the study guide. “This better work. No way I’m losing my candy and my games.”

Sarah retrieved the book from the backpack and opened it to the sweet scent of cherry. She breathed deeply. Just a few hours earlier, she’d partially unwrapped it to savor its delicious aroma. Now she’d never taste it. At least it was for a good cause.

The suneaters thumped the underside of her bed.

“Just you wait a minute!”

The flashlight went onto the textbook, its bright yellow beam illuminating the candy. Sarah unwrapped it slowly, careful with the crinkling plastic. Finally, she waved the unwrapped candy over the edge of the bed.

Shadows slithered around her shoes, knocking them aside. 

“Ready, Keefer?”

Blink, blink.

“Go!” Sarah threw the lollipop toward the closet. It skipped across the floor like a stone across a pond. The suneaters shot after it, two dark blobs in the semi darkness. Keefer squeaked and bounced after them.

Sarah shut the closet door—too hard. Her heart pounded as she heard Mom’s door open and the creak of the loose floorboard in the hallway. She barely made it back under the covers when her door opened.

“Sarah, it’s midnight, what are you…” Mom strode in and lifted the textbook and flashlight. She closed the book and put it on top of the backpack. “Sleep, little miss.”

“Sorry, Mom.”

“You can study over breakfast.”

She had to get her mom out. Grownup’s brains fizzed out when they saw the portals, and Keefer was about to open one. “I will, thanks.”

Mom watched her for a minute.

“I’m sleeping here.”

Mom laughed, then kissed her on the forehead and left, closing the door behind her.

Keefer’s light show blazed up, and the scuffling started. The air popped as the portal opened. Lights flashed. The closet door shuddered.

Darkness, and silence.

Sarah licked her lips and went to the closet. Ear to the wood—nothing. She cracked the door open and flipped the light on. A lollipop stick lay next to her bike helmet, teeth marks embedded in it. She picked it up and tossed it in the trash, then pulled down the box with Keefer’s emergency portal kit. A portal never truly sealed on its own and would be a weak point unless they fortified it.

Using the dragon-scale needle and the unicorn-tail thread, she stitched the portal permanently closed. This one would probably not open again. There would be others, as monsters always tried to leave the Midnight Realm for brighter places, but as long as she and Keefer worked together, Earth would be safe from the darkness. Grownups would be safe from portals. Wishful thinking makes poor planning, Sarah thought. There would be a next time for sure, but she’d be more prepared: after school tomorrow, she’d stock up at the candy store. Who knew sugar had the power to save the world?

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